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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving and The White House Cookbook 1899



So, I'm escaping from the insanity of NaNo and have surfaced into the insanity of...well, um, what else is there to go nutso about during the holidays? Ah, yes, the holidays. Hope your Thanksgiving (to those in the States) was great, and to those of you elsewhere in the world, I hope your random Thursday wasn't terrible.

For this Thanksgiving, I spent some time discussing cookbooks, as I recipe tested some pies: apple and pumpkin. But in the midst of this, my mother mentioned that she still has a cookbook--the original--that's over a hundred years old.

The White House Cookbook was originally written in 1887, though I believe the edition that was passed down from some matriarch in my family was from 1899 or so. Still, I found this book a fascinating historical look into the past, not only because all of the recipes still looked and sounded delicious (well, maybe not the Squirrel Soup), but because it was an interesting connection to the women in my family.

In the back were many notes written in German (my family on that side were all German farmers), and there were even bookmarks inserted into the pages. On one was a recipe clipped from a magazine, and on the back of the magazine clipping was an advertisement for skirts. From my admittedly small bit of knowledge on Victorian dresses, I figured that it was very early 1900s. Definitely pre-Great War, but also post bustle era, which made sense considering the edition date.

You can find the original edition available to read for free from The Project Guttenberg. After scrolling through it, here are some of my favorite historical bits:

1. In the recipe for Blueberry Pickles (I didn't know this, but apparently you can pickle fruit with molasses), the writer of the book shines with a bit of sassy. "...pour in molasses enough to settle down into all the spaces; this cannot be done in a moment, as molasses does not run very freely. Only lazy people will feel obliged to stand by and watch its progress."

Ha! Basically, it's a get-yo-ass-to-work speech courtesy of a cookbook! Boo ya!

2. The cookbook frequently refers to a thickening agent "isinglass," which apparently is a pure gelatin prepared from the dried swim bladders of fish, the sturgeon most likely. Fish gelatin. I guess it's not any weirder than the other kind of gelatin.

3. Some of the more interesting recipes are actually for "toilet items," listing out things like hair wash, cold cream, and anti-dandruff washes. Some of the more interesting items involve spermaceti...also interestingly (and this is second hand knowledge from a chemist at the Day Job), spermaceti has been shown to be really good at breaking down natural proteins, which sort of makes sense why it is listed in a lot of facial products in this book. For dandruff: Take glycerine four ounces, tincture of cantharides five ounces, bay rum four ounces, water two ounces. Mix, and apply once a day and rub well down the scalp.

I had to look up "cantharides," which is Spanish Fly. Yikes.

4. Antidotes for poisons! Yes, the homemaker must also know all her poisons. Here's one for all those opiates which were super duper popular in the late 1800s: Laudanum, Morphine, Opium:—First give a strong emetic of mustard and water, then very strong coffee and acid drinks; dash cold water on the head, then keep in motion.

5. Table etiquette! Ah yes, the ever popular table etiquette, enjoyed and obsessed over by people everywhere. "Delicacy of manner at table stamps both man and woman, for one can, at a glance, discern whether a person has been trained to eat well." Heck, I don't know if it's any different today. But my favorite bit on the etiquette basically tells you that: "Whenever there is any doubt as to the best way to do a thing, it is wise to follow that which is the most rational, and that will almost invariably be found to be proper etiquette."

So...basically proper etiquette is common sense...Ah snap!

I plan on testing out a few of the recipes for the book (and if my pet turtles start acting up, I'm going to show them the recipe for Terrapin Soup). Which should be interesting considering that there are no standardized measurements like you'd see today with cups, half cups, and so forth. The recipes listed mention teacupfuls, and coffecupfuls.

My first attempt will be to try out the "Scalloped Egg" recipe.

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